Maybe he wouldn’t have sung about “chestnuts roasting in a microwave,” but singer Nat King Cole may have appreciated that the soft, sweet and creamy sensations he immortalized in 1946 with “The Christmas Song” could be prepared today in a boxy yet speedy contraption. Dipped in butter and then salted, warm chestnuts make a scrumptious snack. They also add flavor to stuffing, soups and stews. However you choose to enjoy them, cooking chestnuts in a microwave ensures you won’t have to wait long to bring added significance to a song more well known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”
Rinse the chestnuts under cool water to remove any dirt. Take your time, as you also want to soften the shell slightly, too. Place the chestnuts, flat side up, on paper towels to dry.
Make one long cut or an “X” on the flat side of the chestnut with a sharp knife. This will allow steam to escape and ensure that the chestnuts won’t explode in the microwave as they cook. Be careful cutting chestnuts because it's easy to cut yourself when they roll.
Place one chestnut in a microwave-safe dish and cook it on high for 30 seconds. This is a “tenderness test” to determine the right length of time to cook your chestnuts to reduce waste on a full batch. Even on a high setting, microwaves can cook differently. Take your tenderness test to the next level, if you like, and place one chestnut in a microwave-safe dish with a little water. Cover and cook on high for 2 minutes.
Let the chestnut cool a little before removing the outer shell as well as the inner brown skin, called the pellicle. Ideally, the two layers will come off together. Chestnuts are easier to peel when they’re warm.
Taste the chestnut to test if it’s tender enough for your taste. If not, extend the cooking time on the next chestnut by 10 seconds until you are satisfied with the result. Chestnuts cook quickly in the microwave and overcooking them will dry them out, make them chewy and make them taste bland.
Prepare a full batch of chestnuts with your tested microwave cooking time. Cover the cooked chestnuts with a towel to keep them warm while you peel -- and snack on -- one chestnut at a time.
- If you’re buying chestnuts at a farmer’s market, country fair or anywhere else with easy access to water, place the chestnuts in a tub of water before you buy them. Fresh chestnuts will sink while moldy ones will float.
- A pound of chestnuts will serve four people.
Mary Wroblewski earned a master's degree with high honors in communications and has worked as a reporter and editor in two Chicago newsrooms. She launched her own small business, which specialized in assisting small business owners with “all things marketing” – from drafting a marketing plan and writing website copy to crafting media plans and developing email campaigns. Mary writes extensively about small business issues, and especially “all things marketing.”